middle school education

Fluco Game Designers


In my new district, I was asked to start a STEM club of some kind at the middle school back when I interviewed and was hired. I was happy to do this, as I did want to try something new. I eventually decided on game design after having taken the Coding, App, and Game Design I training earlier in the summer. The training was meant to be used at the high school level, but I figured I could easily rework some of it to be used at the middle school level.

It took me some time to come up with my ideas on how to proceed. Unlike with previous clubs, I wanted a neat timeline of events for working with the students. I decided to use 3 different tools- Gamestar Mechanic, Minecraft, and Construct 2. I also want to have students review different games based on gameplay. I wanted there to be an end goal for the year for students as well, so I’m going to have each of them participate in the STEM National Video Game Design Challenge. I believe this will be a good way for them to put their skills to the test.

The basic idea is that students will learn gameplay mechanics by using Gamestar.

After some back and forth with the principal where we worked out details on dates and meetings, forms got sent home with student progress reports. This was probably not the best of ideas, even though it did expose the club to everyone. I ended up becoming more popular than I could have imagined.

Within the next few days, I had over 40 responses. I had to cap the numbers on the club, and in the end I ended up with 66 students. I have to split the group into two groups so that they meet every other week. I also needed volunteers, and so have ended up with 3 potential parent volunteers. Great, I was off to a good start.

Some time passed and I had to set aside my planning for a little bit due to other obligations. The week of the first meeting I began doing my final preparation. I focused on Gamestar and used their resources and lessons to design my own. I knew I needed to be prepared with so large of a group. I also began setting up Google Classroom for my group as well. I knew it would be a big help in getting information to the students. Finally, I set up the Facebook page and Twitter account for our club.

Thursday, October 6 was our first meeting. In the end I had 55 of 66 students show up. We worked in the library. Two parent volunteers showed up as well and they were a huge help in getting materials to students, as well as helping me observe and keep them on track. I could not have done it without them.

For our first meeting, we got things set up. Students completed a game designer profile I had created, and then they joined the Google Classroom and Gamestar Mechanic. We completed the first lesson on the parts of a game and they also completed episodes 1 and 2 of the first quest. We then played a match game based on the parts of a game before wrapping up and dismissing the students.

Overall I was really pleased, and so were the remarks I heard from parents as well. We’re going to meet as a whole group until behaviors keep us from doing the planned materials. They did well so far, so until something keeps us from accomplishing our goals, we’ll keep meeting in a large group.

Looking forward to the next meeting!

GAFE Teacher Resource: Equation Editor

As I go along, I’m always learning new things about GAFE and its set of programs. Today I was exploring ways to use Google Classroom in the math classroom and came across the equation editor in Google Docs. While I am aware that there are some more robust add-ons (and that I’m looking into them!), I went ahead and put together a quick how-to sheet for my staff while I learn the other add-ons.

Click here for the resource

Minecraft Makershop: The Final Countdown

After months of waiting for this to happen, it’s finally almost here. Tomorrow will be the first day of Minecraft Makershop and I’m both excited and nervous. Mostly excited though. I was worried my ideal wouldn’t get off the ground after I got the grant, but I’m very pleased with how things have turned out so far, and thought I’d give an update of what’s happened since the last time I wrote about Minecraft Makershop.

The last time I wrote about Makershop was back in March after my grant proposal was accepted. Originally I’d planned to update as I went along, but I got caught up in other things and other blog updates. I definitely was busy at work these past 3 months though!

One of the first things I began doing with my grant proposal was taking the basic ideas from it to begin a book on creating a Minecraft Makershop. The book itself is meant to be for anyone who would like to start a similar workshop of their own based on what I started. Three months later and I’m still adding bits and pieces to it. I think I’ve finished another draft stage of it, and it’s currently at 44 pages. I’m not completely satisfied with it yet though, so I’m sure it’ll go through more edits before I finally released a PDF for anyone to download. I do plan to have it ready to submit with the report I have to turn in for my grant.

It took some time before I was able to work on the actual set up of the game world that I would use. I really should have downloaded the MinecraftEDU launcher before mid-May, but I was busy with other things at work and home. I did make sure the launcher was set up on the school computers around the same time, which turned out to be a good thing because the school filters for the region blocked access to the program. I had to communicate with the tech guy from the local RESA to get it fixed. All he had to do was pass the issue on to his head, and they fixed a few things to allow it to work at the school I will be using the program.

Of course, once it was set up at school to work, I was able to work on setting up the game world in between the crazy final closing up shop for all things technology. Planning the idea for the layout of the world was easy. Actually building it? Time consuming, but that’s really because of what I chose to do. Before I explain what I ended up building, here’s the excerpt from my Makershop book that explains what the world needed:

World Requirements

Flat World- In order to make setup as easily as possible for your group, it is best to have a flat
world. This will give you as much space as necessary, without having to worry about land barriers getting in the way. Do keep in mind that you can still spawn villages and mobs if you wish.

Creative Mode- You’ll want your flat world to be in creative mode so that attendees have access to
all of the blocks that they’ll need. If they’re not in creative mode in the flat world, they won’t be able to get other supplies anyway, unless you give them to the attendees.

Area 1, Days 1 & 2- Area 1 is what we will call the workspace in which attendees will complete
the activities for Days 1 and 2. Each attendee will need a workspace setup, which can be done using border blocks or fences. 30 x 30 spaces gives the attendees plenty of space to work with. You may wish to put down a road between the spaces to make it more appealing to the eye. Each attendee will label their workspace with a sign, as per the directions for Day 1.

Area 2, Day 3- Area 2 is what we will call the workspace in which attendees will complete the Day 3 activity that allows them to make any kind of building, as long as it meets the specifications set forth in the instructions. Again, each attendee will need a workspace, and since the attendees can make any kind of building, 50 x 50 spaces allow them plenty of space. Again, roads can be put down to make it more appealing, and attendees will label their workspace with a sign.

Area 3, Days 3-5- Area 3 is the largest space that will be created. This is the workspace in which
attendees will collaborate in groups to design a village or city. For Area 3, workspaces that are 300 x 300 each will give groups plenty of space to execute their plans. The amount of workspaces in Area 3 will depend on how many groups are created for the final project. For Area 3, only set up the border blocks. Do not include anything else inside.

Teleportation Blocks- Because the world will be spread out over such a large area, teleportation
blocks will make it easier for attendees to move from area to area. Make sure to make the names for each area easy to understand.

Home Block- Use this to set the area that students will appear in-world upon logging in.

Right! So setting up should have been easy if I’d stuck to the whole KISS (keep it simple, stupid) principle. I did not. For Area 1, I decided to build a simple layered wall around the entire area to demonstrate what some simple layering could do to liven up a build. Here are some examples:

This is the workspace for all of the registered attendees. Each space is a 30 x 30 square surrounded by a regular fence. This took longer than I would have liked to set up because I was just getting used to the extra tools the EDU version had. You can see the beginnings of the wall being built around the entire area.

This is the final completed wall for Area 1. It’s really nothing fancy, but it shows how textures and layering can begin to transform bland builds.

If Area 1 wasn’t bad enough, then Area 2 was awful. Well, not really. For Area 2, I wanted to also build a wall, but I wanted it to be more in detail. I found a wall I liked on PlanetMinecraft and tried to copy parts of that design. I did not download the file, so everything I did was based on my own measurements and visual. It took forever to get all of this wall done, though it looks pretty fantastic, and gives Area 2 a more intermediate feel, which goes along with the increase in difficulty for the workshop. Check out these pictures:

This is the start of the wall for Area 2. It took forever to measure out how everything would look, as seen by the purple wool. I wasn’t sure how the measurements would pan out for the corner towers, as I was just estimating.

Here you can see more progress on the wall itself. I ended up having to do each detail bit by bit around the whole wall before moving on to another. This was the most time consuming part. The only thing left to complete now are the corner towers.

Finally, the corner towers are all completed. I attempted to follow most of the design from the website file, but since my measurements for the corner towers were different from the start (which I knew), it turned out differently and I mostly winged it.

Just for fun, I changed the time to night and took a night shot of the tower to see what it looked like at night.

Area 3 was an easy setup because all I had to do was wall off 200 x 200 spaces for each group to work with. I simply used the border block feature for this. This makes them look bland right now, but the goal is for students to create the visual:

Well, at least I could follow the KISS principle for Area 3 spaces…

Because I want to be able to pull the world off of MinecraftEDU and use on the regular game, I set up a rail system to travel back and forth through all of the area. Mostly this was for aesthetics I’ll admit, but it also gave me a reason to build simple train stations that doubled as teleport stations. Again, I ignored the KISS principle. However, the stations
did look nice in the end:

Far away shot of the original station.

View from inside one of the stations toward Block City, aka Area 2 in my world.

The last thing I did for each area was write up the directions for the activities to be completed. I added the information blocks and made them easily visible.

Page 1 of the directions for Primary Village, aka Area 1 in my world.

Once this was done, the world was ready to go. I did a few final test runs with one of the student accounts, just to make sure everything worked the way that I wanted it to. I was pleased with the end result, and am eager for students to log in and build.

Outside of setting up the world and working on the drafts of the Makershop book, I’ve been going over the extra supplies that I bought for the workshop. Some of the materials come from the grant, and others are things I bought myself. There’s reference books from the grant, and then I bought graph paper, cheap flex binders, and graph paper. I’m hoping that it’ll be enough to give the students plenty of ways to plan and collaborate together because I know every plans how they build in Minecraft differently.

Keep an eye out this week for further updates on Minecraft Makershop. I’m hoping to be able to update nearly every day of the workshop and share some of the image progress as the week goes along. This is going to be a huge learning process, and I’m ready to tackle it so that I can reflect for future similar experiences!

Lesson Plan: Budgeting a Clothing Allowance

This was originally taught to a 5th grade class at the elementary school where I work. I wanted to incorporate real world skills into our Learning Excel section. I needed to introduce simple formulas to the students, as well as teach them how to format their spreadsheet. Since it is real world math skills, I tagged it as mathematics, even though very few standards match up to it. However, I feel that learning how to create a budget is very important, and that this was a good start for the students. This can certainly be adapted for older students as well.

Summary: Students will use the Excel app, Target.com, and Popplet to
create a budget for themselves with a specified clothing allowance.

Lesson plan link here

Getting Started with Coding and Code.org

Coding is one of the popular buzzwords these days in education. I got started with it last year in April. I’m slowly starting to find other teachers interested in coding in my current district. Some of them have found articles in newspapers or online, and they ask me about what I do with my coding clubs. I explain each club, and what the groups do. The biggest
question I get is “What is the easiest way to get started?”

For the majority of teachers, coding is a brand new concept, and a bit scary to think about. Very few have any kind of background knowledge in the field, and yet, they are discovering that it’s starting to become integrated into education, and in some cases, even becoming law. Terms, languages, programs, where to begin?

My goal is to get teachers started without scaring them, and so my recommendation is for them to begin with Code.org, especially if they are an elementary or middle school teacher. Of course, Code.org isn’t the only program out there, but it has been the easiest for teachers use with students, and it’s free. It also has the capability to set up multiple classrooms. The big seller is the self-guided course. Teachers don’t have to come up with the curriculum, and they don’t have to know anything about coding when starting students on the self-guided course. In addition, the self-guided course also tracks all student data, and provides an answer key in case students and teachers are stumped. The courses are geared at students from kindergarten on up, so even the youngest of students can get started without having to be ableto read.

Before we get too deep into the subject, let’s look at what Code.org offers teachers. There are many Hour of Code activities. Theseactivities are meant to jump start students’ passion with coding, and can be completed in an hour or less. Code.org is even so kind as to link to other websites for Hour of Code. There are 20 hour courses to be completed, from
kindergarten on up. If you’re looking for stats on computer science and the field of computer science, you’ll find that there as well.

To get started, I do highly recommend that teachers see if a Code.org training is available in their area soon. This training gives teachers experience with both the course work and the unplugged activities that students will complete while using Code.org. The all-day training is hands-on and interactive. At the very end, you’ll go home with a bag of goodies, including a paper copy of the curriculum. Within the coming weeks, you’ll also receive a box of supplies to help with one of the courses in the program. Check here to see if there is a program available in your area!

If a training session isn’t available, teachers will need to rely on the information provided by the website. The first step then is to create an account. The sign-up process is relatively simple, and once the teacher has signed up, they have access to all of the course work and the ability to create classes and student accounts. The teacher can also work through each of the courses on their own, which I recommend, as it helps teachers help students problem solve when they are stuck.

Let’s start with what is available. For students in K-5, there are Courses 1-4, plus an Accelerated Course option. Course 1 is meant for students ages 4-6 years old, and requires very little reading experience. Courses 2-4 are meant for all other elementary students. Students begin with Course 2 and progress through to the next courses. The Accelerated Course is a combination of all of the courses, and actually the one I begin my middle school students with. Each course is estimated to take about 20 hours a piece, but this also depends on the student. I’ve had some students fly through their coursework, and others struggle.

Middle school students can complete the Accelerated Course, but their teachers have the option to use the Computer Science in Algebra or the Computer Science in Science courses. In order to do so, however, teachers are required to attend professional development first. This is where it’s tricky because if your district is not partnered with Code.org, you’ll have to have your district apply. Applications are not available year round, and applications for the 2016-2017 year are already full. CS in Algebra is made possible by Code.org and Bootstrap. Students learn algebraic and geometric concepts during the program, and work on some basic video game design in the process. Computer Science in Science is made possible by Code.org and Project GUTS. During this program, students learn about computer science with a focus on modeling and simulation. Even if your district is not yet partnered, Code.org allows anyone to check out the coursework once an account is created.

For high school teachers, two more course options are available. Once again, however, a district must be partnered with Code.org in order for teachers to attend professional development training. As with the middle school courses, teachers can explore the course work once they have an account on the website. The two courses are Exploring Computer Science and AP Computer Science Principles. Each of these courses are meant to last the entire year. Both courses do require intensive training in order to get started. If your district is wanting to implement either of these courses, then begin planning the steps to become partnered with Code.org first. Once that’s done, then you can figure out your next course of action.

Code.org certainly isn’t the end all when it comes to coding in the classroom. However, if you’re an elementary or middle school teacher looking to get started quickly, have ways to track student data, and have solutions to every lesson at your fingertips, then it’s a great place to start. Once teachers are comfortable, and they feel students are ready for more
challenges, it’s very easy to branch out and seek other options. With so many being available online these days, teachers are certain to not run out of options any time soon!

#Vaedtechjourney Update: LFCC Job Fair

This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend a job fair at Lord Fairfax Community College in Virginia. The districts represented were from the Northern Shenandoah Valley area. Clarke County, Frederick County, Harrisonburg City, Page County, Shenandoah County, Warren County, and Winchester City Public Schools were all represented. This particular job fair did not require any kind of preregistration form, and only asked that attendees bring their resume to hand out to representatives.

I had not been to a job fair since I was finishing up student teaching in the fall of 2008. I wanted to make a good impression, so I bought a new button up blouse in one of my favorite colors, and got a new pair of dress shoes. The night before the job fair, I sat down to revamp the resume I had put together for the instructional technology positions I was seeking, and edited it so that it showcased both my teaching and technology successes. I did the same thing to the cover letter I had written up. For good measure, I located the nice resume paper that I still had left from my student teaching and printed both on that. I tucked both sets of documents into a folder andfelt confident.

The day of the fair was rather yucky, weather-wise. The weather was a rain/snow mix, with the chance for up to 6 inches. Thankfully, it never really stuck to the ground, or caused any issues with travel. I arrived at Lord Fairfax shortly after 9 and headed in with my gear. After quickly filling out the registration form, I was allowed entry.

It was a decent turnout, though not as crowded as I thought it might have been. I would guess that the weather played a key role here. I decided on a counterclockwise rotation and began my journey around the room. Many times I had to wait until I could speak to district representations, so I had plenty of time to observe. There were student teachers, educators who wanted to transfer (like me), and career switchers. I found that in some cases, certain districts did not want to really converse with you if your job was notsomething they were looking for. On the other hand, if your job was in need in a district, you became a very interesting person on the spot.

I handed out my resume to each district except for 1 or 2. Iwas disappointed that I did not yet have the teacher business cards I had ordered because some district representations asked for my blog URL, and I gave them my Twitter handle as well. I do wish I had thought of the business card idea sooner because it would have looked more professional, but at least I will have them before I attend TIS Regionals next month.

I finished up just after 11 and had found that Clarke County was one I was interested in applying to for a teaching position. It’s a smaller district, with only two elementary schools. The good news is that both principals were there, so I made sure to speak to both of them. I did come home after the fair and put in a job application that evening. It was the first teaching application I had submitted on my hunt for a new job.

Overall, I think it went pretty well, and it gave me a chance to put faces to some of the districts I had looked at in the past. I loved being able to make connections, and hopefully some of my hard work will pay off in the future.

Teacher Resource: Front Row

(Note: All images used in this post are screencapped directly from the Front Row website, and meant to be visual guides throughout this post. Rosen Shepherd is a fake student for this post, and her name has been edited since to keep anyone from logging in as her.)

Show of hands: How many times have you wanted to find a free program that will differentiate instruction for students in English and mathematics AND allow the teacher to analyze all of the data? Again, free is the name of the game when your district is on a budget for this teacher resource as well.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Front Row.

Front Row is another program I was introduced to at the Infusing Technology Spring Showcase. It is a computer adaptive program for students whose needs fall in the K-8 range of English Language Arts and Mathematics. There are two versions- free and school edition. The free edition includes all of the math program. The limitations come with the ELA side- teachers can only assign 5 articles to students per month. The articles are
adapted to the students’ levels. The school edition includes many features- an administrator dashboard, an upgraded teacher dashboard, benchmarking tools, inquiry lessons, and professional development. There is no estimated cost for the School Edition, only that anyone interested should contact Front Row for a quote.

Signing up for Front Row is quick and easy. Simply fill out the requested information and you will be off and running. Front Row will also ask you to select your school. The very next thing that teachers will see is the tutorial page with Piggy, Front Row’s mascot. If you’re a first time user, make sure to go through Piggy’s tutorial. If not, click Skip and you’ll be taken to your dashboard. Here you can set up your rosters, manage assignments, check out data and more. To manage a roster, simply click the green “Manage Roster” button in the upper left corner. From there, you can add students to the default class, create a new class, or change the name of the class.

For the sake of this blog post, I’ve created a sample student named Rosen Shepherd who is in 4th grade. For Rosen, I will only be able to see her current data for the week, and not any past data. Front Row only offers this feature to the School Edition accounts, not past ones. Rosen is now ready to log in and begin using Front Row. Rosen will be required to take a diagnostic test so that Front Row can place her level accordingly. Notice that in the blue bar for Rosen’s class, there is also a code. I’ll need to give this to Rosen when she logs in to Front Row.

Rosen’s student login screen is very simple. All Rosen needs to do is enter her first and last name, and the class code. Then she logs in. Rosen’s dashboard looks very simple and colorful. Depending on the day’s assignment, she chooses whether or not she is working on Math or English. Today, Rosen will select Math. Since this is Rosen’s first time, any of the math areas selected will given Rosen a diagnostic test.

Rosen’s dashboard pictured above

During the diagnostic, Rosen will have access to different tools. There’s a pencil tool to write on the blank whiteboard space. There are numbers to be dragged over (since she’s doing Counting and Operations), there’s an eraser tool, and there’s a speaker tool that will read the question and answer choices to her if she needs help. The diagnostic will take 5-10 minutes, depending on Rosen’s skill level. Once Rosen has finished the diagnostic, she’ll be placed on the board at a skill where she needs to work, and will be able to move up from there. Rosen can also choose to do any of the other diagnostic skills. Throughout, she’ll earn coins for correct answers and lose coins for wrong answers. Once a diagnostic is finished, a window may pop up and tell her that she can visit the Piggy Store.

Piggy Store is a place where students only have 90 seconds to make decisions. In the store they can buy accessories and backgrounds for their Piggy character, all while a clock counts down the seconds left in the store. The time limit is a good thing because it keeps the students from spending too much time in the store, and allows them to get back to practicing instead. However, students may earn trips to the store multiple times in a session because they have worked on completing skill areas. Every time a window will pop up to let the student know if they’ve earned a trip to the store.Students have the option to visit, or they can decline.

I had Rosen take a few diagnostic assessments. Let’s sign back in to our teacher account and see how she’s doing. Below, you can see the different types of report options available to teachers in Front Row.

For the sample here, I chose to pull up the Report Card and then selected Rosen. As you can see, the report card is very detailed for what she has accomplished. This report can then be printed and used for any documentation or IEP purposes that the teacher requires. Teachers can hover over any of the charts to get an accurate reading. Teachers can also click on the current standards. The next screen will explain what the standard is, as well as give sample types of questions that the student will see.

Switching to the ELA side of things, teachers will find that it is much less detailed, but that is because most of the options on the ELA sections are not available without purchasing the School Edition. Students can, however, take the diagnostic. When I took the diagnostic as Rosen, I was provided with two sample reading passages and comprehension questions. The passages weren’t too long, and there were only a few questions. After I had completed the diagnostic, I was able to choose to read articles on my own, and answer the questions that went with them. The articles for Rosen are now much longer and have more questions to answer. I switched back to the teacher view to assess Rosen’s diagnostic test, and it had her at a 7.4 grade level. The bananas article I selected as her to read on her own was 8.2. I did not have any say in the level of the article; the program automatically adjusted for Rosen’s needs.

Rosen’s sample diagnotic passage

Some of the articles that Rosen can choose to read on her own. These are geared to her reading level from the diagnostic.

Unlike the math, the reports available on the English side are not as detailed or in depth. This may be a result of using the free version only. However, the English side is a good way for teachers to differentiate instruction for students in small groups. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, the teacher can only assign 5 articles per month to students with the free edition, but the articles will automatically adjust to each students’needs.

Overall, Front Row is an amazing tool for teachers to integrate into their classrooms. It works great for small group instruction, as well as varying instruction levels to match the abilities and skills of students within the classroom. I’d recommend trying out the free edition to begin with to make sure it is a good fit in your classroom. If the free edition provides the results you want, then contact the company for a quote for the school edition of the program, especially if you want to get more out of the English section. If anyone has the school edition and would be willing to share their experiences with me, please feel free to contact me!